Google TV vs. Apple TV, Microsoft couldn’t last for this battle

The latest move by Google and Apple for the TV experience all require big data centers.  Newsweek covers how these companies are remaking the Tube.

Geek TV

Computer makers take over the tube.

Martin Katz / Xinhua-Landov

For the past few years, tech companies have been trying to find a way to bring the Internet and television to-gether, without much success. Sure, there are lots of little boxes you can attach to your TV that let you download content from the Internet, including Vudu, Roku, TiVo, Boxee, and Apple TV, not to mention game consoles from Microsoft and Sony. Each one gives you a little something different. But no single box gives you the whole Internet.

Now Google is out to replace all those crazy little boxes with Google TV. The software program will come built right into some TV sets and it will basically turn your TV into a computer.

In all the news about Google and Apple there is almost no mention of MSN TV.


Because you can’t buy MSN TV anymore.


MSN TV is the rebranded WebTV Microsoft acquired.

MSN TV (formerly WebTV) is the name of both a thin client which uses a television for display (rather than a computer monitor), and the online servicethat supports it.

The product and service was developed by WebTV Networks, Inc., a company purchased by Microsoft Corporation and absorbed into MSN (the Microsoft Network). While most thin clients developed in the mid-1990s were positioned as diskless workstations for corporate intranets, WebTV was positioned as a consumer device for web access.

A good friend from my Apple days worked at WebTV which eventually made him a Microsoft employee.  I hired him to help evangelize Windows XP before he moved on to senior architect position in Windows.  Ironically he now works at Google, not on the TV product.

Going back further in time I worked for a short period in the Microsoft Interactive TV team which was run by Craig Mundie.  Craig is the one who drove the acquisition of WebTV.

Microsoft takes notice

In February 1997, in an investor meeting with Microsoft, Steve Perlman was approached by Microsoft's Senior Vice President for Consumer Platforms Division, Craig Mundie. Despite the fact that the initial WebTV sales had been modest, Mundie expressed that Microsoft was impressed with WebTV and saw significant potential both in WebTV's product offering and in applying the technology to other Microsoft consumer and video product offerings

Things have changed a lot in 14 years that WebTV was launched.  The first servers for WebTV were run from their office in an old BMW dealership.

WebTV's online service running from servers in its tiny office, still based in the former BMW dealership

Apple and Google now have some of the top data center infrastructure in the industry.  What has changed in the 14 years is the requirement to use data centers to power the user experience. 

I wonder if part of what contributed to Microsoft’s inability to keep up the MSN/WebTV platform is the lack of data center capabilities during product development.

It is interesting how not to long ago servers were viewed as support devices – file and print servers.   Now servers do the heavy lifting so the client experience is faster, more efficient and more flexible.